A hospital emergency room is not what one would consider a soothing environment. It’s stressful, noisy and bright, and ultimately, the worst nightmare of an individual in a behavioral health crisis, whether due to mental illness, substance abuse or intellectual disabilities.
However, the emergency room is usually where they’re taken for treatment.
“Bucks County has historically provided crisis services with mental health providers embedded in emergency rooms across the county,” said Sharon Curran, CEO of Lenape Valley Foundation.
Over the past few years, Lenape, Doylestown Hospital, Bucks County Drug & Alcohol Commission Inc., Bucks County Department of Behavioral Health/Developmental Programs, Magellan Behavioral Health and NAMI have discussed the fact that an ER setting can be detrimental, rather than beneficial, for behavioral health patients.
Thanks to this partnership and newly-acquired funding, families and individuals struggling with a behavioral health challenge will soon have a calming, trauma-informed place to go for help.
Recently, plans were unveiled for a new, specially-designed crisis stabilization center in Doylestown that will serve residents of Lower and Central Bucks County. It will be located next to the existing Lenape Valley Foundation site at 500 N. West St., on the grounds of — but separate from — Doylestown Hospital.
The first of its kind in Pennsylvania, the center will bring together under one roof all the components of crisis services that are now fractured across the system — mental health, drug and alcohol, intellectual disabilities and more — in a space operated by Lenape that’s designed to de-escalate a crisis.
“Emergency rooms did a good job. In Bucks County, we have really good relationships with the emergency rooms and have been working together. But we both recognized that it’s not a good fit,” said Curran. “All you need is a trauma coming in and our folks witnessing it, and they’re already there for some traumatic experience in their life.”
According to Curran, it also hasn’t helped that, in the emergency room, children are forced to co-mingle with adults, and those on the spectrum have no escape from the unsettling lights, noise and commotion.
Talks of such a stabilization center were already underway when the pandemic hit in March 2020. It was COVID-19 that magnified the need to get behavioral health patients out of the ER and into a separate, better-suited facility.
“We really did not need to be in the emergency room,” said Curran. “We were taking up medical space. Behavioral health is a medical condition, but we were taking up physical beds.”
Once finished, the 22,000-square-foot center will have separate entrances for children and adults, a variety of waiting areas, reclining chairs, short-term beds for anyone who may have to spend a night or two, and withdrawal management beds. There will also be separate parts of the facility for those who voluntarily come in, and those involuntarily brought in, whether by emergency services personnel or law enforcement.
As Lenape Valley Foundation is an applicant to become a 988 call center (the nationwide hotline for behavioral health), individuals can also speak to someone via phone to determine whether or not they should come in. Transportation is available for those unable to travel themselves.
Once someone arrives at the center, a full assessment is completed and action is taken based on what each individual needs. For example, if a person is misusing drugs and/or alcohol and has mental health concerns, Lenape may recommend an inpatient facility where they can get further treatment. Or, for example, if someone is having feelings of depression, they could be prescribed medication and monitored for the next few hours. If they feel better and the crisis has truly been stabilized, they’ll be sent home. On the other hand, if their depression worsens, an inpatient facility may be recommended.
Basically, there will be a triage, evaluation, treatment (if possible) and a recommendation (if needed). Those who utilize the center’s services, said Curran, won’t typically be there long, but some may need to stay for a little while.
“Sometimes, we are looking for a placement for a person and we cannot find a place for them to go for various reasons, and they end up staying for a day or two,” she said. “In an emergency room, that’s pretty awful, to have to sit in an emergency room for 24, 48-plus hours. And this way, they wouldn’t have to. They’re more comfortable and they’re not holding up a bed for physical health patients.”
Curran stressed that none of the services provided at the center are new. They’re already provided by Lenape Valley Foundation and Doylestown Hospital, but once the facility is completed, the services will finally be in a space that’s designed for them to occur in.
“This new center will bring together the various types of services that an individual in crisis needs, so we can get the full picture of this human being and help them on their journey to recovery,” she said. “Even though that just makes sense, that is not the way things work today. And we’ll do it all in a calming, home-like atmosphere in a culture of nonviolence.”
Supporting the project is Bucks County Commissioner Diane Ellis-Marseglia, who has a background in social work. According to her, the infrastructure to care for mental health, addiction and other behavioral health issues was decimated in the 1980s, when mental health facilities closed and the few available community-based health centers didn’t have the resources or ability to fill the void.
“People with mental health, struggling with addiction and struggling with co-occurring disorders had absolutely nowhere to go but their emergency room, and that is not the right place for them to be,” she said. “So, from the ruins of the ‘80s, we are like a phoenix rising with this new construction. There are a lot of people suffering out there, and I’m just happy to say, help is on the way.”
The stabilization center will be open 24/7 and serve those in need regardless of their ability to pay. Construction is slated to start at the beginning of 2024, with completion expected by late 2024 or early 2025.
Samantha Bambino can be reached at email@example.com